Joe Bastianich and The Gospel of Restaurant Man

Mario Batali's service industry comrade-in-arms and the Son of Lidia published a memoir. Is it his 'Heart of Darkness' or The Good Word?

Del Posto was almost closed shortly after opening due to its lease changing hands. The new landlords—described by Mr. Bastianich as “the most unlikable fucking New York douchebag landlords ever” (page 206) and “pure fucking evil” (page 210)—served an eviction notice, claiming the partners had violated the lease agreement with unauthorized construction. Eater claimed it all went back to a pasta dinner the management refused to comp to the new owners.

The ensuing 18-month legal battle included a trip to State Supreme Court. Though he prevailed, Mr. Bastianich is still seething about the fight. In the book, he calls the opposing counsel, Warren Estis, “the fucking antichrist of landlord-tenant lawyers” (page 210), and describes the landlords’ PR advisor, Richard Rubenstein, as the “Hermann Göring of publicists” (also: page 210).

Recalling the dispute, Mr. Bastianich’s eyes glazed over, as if he were having a bad flashback. “I was fighting for my very life, for my 15-million-dollar investment,” he said. “We spent well over a million dollars fighting that shit.”

But it was the press war that stung the most. “The fact that you can buy that kind of ink in The Post …” he said, trailing off.

The New York Post did go hard on Del Posto. Food critic Steve Cuozzo slammed the restaurant—in a filing that also took on its neighbor Morimoto—under the headline “Bum and Bummer.”

In the book, Mr. Bastianich addresses Mr. Cuozzo directly: “I just want to ask Steve, ‘Are you a real-estate reporter, a restaurant critic, or just plain fucking stupid?’”

Mr. Cuozzo responded in The Post, calling Bastianich “dumb” and a “lunatic,” asking if he remembered the episode incorrectly: “Did Mama Lidia beat him with a zabaglione whisk for the mess he made of Del Posto’s launch, when it was nearly evicted for violating its lease?”

He finished with the taunt: “Lidia, talk to your boy before he costs you real money.”

It was far from the only hostile reaction the book earned. In response to a passage about the time when Esquire’s food critic John Mariani, a “self-righteous, condescending prick,” berated him and “sliced my balls off tableside” over a bad meal, Mr. Mariani fired back through gossip items. He called Mr. Bastianich’s recollection of events “not just vile but so duplicitous that it’s difficult to imagine you are truly the son of your ever cordial, ever civilized parents.”

Regarding the backlash to the book’s more fiery passages, Mr. Bastianich initially claimed to be taken aback. “Quite frankly, it’s surprising to me,” he said.

He later admitted: “Oh, Mariani, yeah. I knew he’d freak out. I mean, whatever. It happened, it’s the truth. I don’t hate him.” Still, he said, “I wish they would leave my mom out of it. She is probably a kinder, more gentle person than I am, and she doesn’t deserve to be brought into this.”

Still, those dustups are fingerling potatoes compared to the labor lawsuits that have been filed against the company.

In 2010, a suit was brought alleging labor violations and demanding back pay. The original lawsuit—which started with only two Babbo employees and alleged that a percentage of wine sales was being deducted from the tip pool—was eventually expanded to a class-action suit against eight Batali/Bastianich restaurants in 2011, a few months after Mr. Bastianich called “bullshit” in the press (a line that was quoted in the judge’s decision to expand the suit to a class-action).

Initially, Mr. Bastianich told service industry gossip site Eater that “we’re going to fight this to every inch of the law, because we know we’re right” and later remarking to The Post that the suits were the work of “money-hungry lawyers” who were “shaking down the very foundation of Manhattan’s restaurant industry.”

One of the lawyers Mr. Bastianich was no doubt referring to was Maimon Kirschenbaum, who brought the suit against his company, and who has handled numerous such cases against many of the largest names in New York’s service industry, winning more than $35 million in settlements.

“I don’t think it’s confidential that that guy doesn’t like me,” Mr. Kirschenbaum said in a phone call with The Observer. “I called him a thief.”

Joe Bastianich and The Gospel of <em> Restaurant Man</em>